Shedding the facebook facade

New Year’s Day in my family has traditionally been about chucking out old clothes. We stuff old T-shirts, shorts, dresses and business shirts into bags to take to the nearest charity bin. It’s a sign of renewal and growth – that by shedding our old skins we’ve moved on from who we were. It’s also an understanding of aging, and that with the progression of years come different tastes and different waistlines.

This year, I gave away a pair of slim-fit jeans I’d never worn. The tag was still on. Bought as an incentive to lose weight, they failed miserably. I remain fat. The jeans remain slim. It was a good idea at the time.

Yet this year we added a new angle to the clothes disposal routine. This year, amid prodding from computer-less octogenarians, we embarked on a ‘Facebook friends cleanse’.  More specifically, we decided to research just what ‘friends’ were really friends and if we were actually as popular as we thought.

With many of the family spread across the world, us ‘cleansers’ were mostly over 40 years old. My 17 year old daughter, with over 500 friends would probably have refused to participate anyway. I was proud of my 96 friends and looked forward to reaching my century. I’m a cricket fan and remain largely competitive.

The ‘cleanse’ involved asking three simple questions about our friend’s photos. Question 1. Could we name them? Question 2. Had we ever met them? Question 3. Would we go to their funeral?

What eventuated was not surprising to the octogenarians and disappointing to us young ones. On average, we could positively answer all questions for 30% of our ‘friends’.  We smugly knew around 80% of their names and we’d met a staggering 93% of them. The major stumbling block was the dreaded ‘funeral’ question. If 70% of our ‘friends’ died, we wouldn’t attend their funeral.

Now this finding wasn’t so harsh until one of the octogenarians, one who is known for their blunt comments about weight gain and baldness, reminded us that should the research be valid, 70% of our friends wouldn’t attend our funeral either. As one of us had only 12 friends, this left a funeral procession of three people. She optimistically observed that at least the wake would be cheap.

As Facebook starts its eighth year as the world’s most popular social networking site, it’s time to put the concept of friendship and what it means under scrutiny. If attendance at a funeral is at all associated with care and even respect, our New Year’s Day research indicates that we don’t really ‘care’ about 70% of our ‘friends’.

The normally vocal defence to this by those with friends to burn is that many Facebook friends aren’t ‘real’ friends and everyone knows it. ‘Friendship’ is just a term used to help boost our numbers, a term not indicative of real life. Equally not representative is the seemingly endless ‘amazing’ life adventures ‘friends’ seem to have every day – a life where even doing the washing requires a Facebook post; a life where every holiday snap is excitedly posted. For a while I had friend-envy. I thought I was the only one not excited about doing the washing or walking the dog. Now I know better. If they knew that 70% of their friends really couldn’t give a damn perhaps their posts would be less ‘amazing’.

Yet as the younger generation and a battalion of middle-aged wannabees increasingly view Facebook as the necessary life platform, it begs the question as to what these generations are doing on a platform that’s largely not real or representative. As Australia’s magazine sales plummet, perhaps Facebook is replacing them as the place for ‘amazing’ gossip or ‘incredible’ adventures. I’m half expecting a friend to post a fad diet soon or perhaps a guide to better orgasm?

This week we gave four clothing bags to charity. This year, we’ve resolved to shed friends. Not the real ones, yet the ones who like the old clothes or slim jeans, just don’t fit any more or perhaps have never been worn. Perhaps facebook could introduce a special section for newly shed friends, where like our clothes; they could be adopted by others and reused. Now that would be ‘amazing’.

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